Superintendent Douglas Delivers 2018 State of Education

Published: January 23rd, 2018

2018 STATE OF EDUCATION

Remarks by Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane M. Douglas
Delivered January 22, 2018, before the Arizona House Education Committee

Mr. Chairman and members of the House Education Committee. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today.

For the record, I am Diane Douglas, and I have the honor and privilege of serving you as Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction. It is always a pleasure to address so many elected officials who care as deeply about education and the future of our students as I do.

In my opinion, the most important thing we do as a state is educate our children. The goal is to not make them worker bees or college applicants. The goal is to create successful citizens who will protect and perpetuate our great republic.

While I would say that the State of Education in Arizona is improving, there is much more work to do. On a positive note, since taking office, we are seeing modest increases in test scores.

While I am not a fan of the AzMERIT test, it is encouraging to see our students English Language Learning and Math scores going up. I attribute this to the daily hard work of our parents and our teachers.

We have replaced the Common Core standards with our own new Arizona Standards for Math and English. It is good to have Arizonans back in charge of the standards for Arizona students.

We are seeing schools and districts sign up for the Arizona Broadband for Education Initiative. This is $100 million-dollar-plus opportunity to upgrade rural and underserved schools’ internet capability in our state.

As of today, more than 100 schools have signed up which has already impacted more than 70,000 students. The grant is closing within the next few months, so please urge schools or districts to apply.

In addition, we have made the successful transition from our old, unstable, student data system to the new award-winning AzEDS system. In fact, we executed the most efficient annual rollover in the state’s history.

LEAs now know their estimated state aid payments on a daily basis, as opposed to months later, allowing the state to meet legislatively mandated reporting deadlines and offer end-of-year calculations for the first time.

District and charter schools now also follow the same month-to-month payment schedule, which allows schools to budget with more accuracy, saving the state millions of dollars annually.

AzEDS allowed districts and schools to close out their student data for the previous year in July and open the new year that same month. This was the first time that has occurred. AzEDS allows schools to plan budgets and personnel and resources sooner and with greater accuracy.

These are just some of the good things happening in Arizona education. But there are still many challenges to address. We have a teacher shortage. According to a survey by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association, more than 20 percent of teacher positions remained vacant after four months into the school year.

While teacher pay is not the only factor leading to a shortage; it is a big factor. Arizona teacher pay is among the lowest in the country. Arizona high school teachers are ranked 48th in the country for teacher pay, while elementary school teachers rank dead last.

We have held more than fifty We Are Listening Tour events over the past three years – town halls where I have met with parents, teachers, administrators and other members of the public about education issues.

No matter where I go; east, west, north, south or central. Whether the community is rural or urban, and of all political stripes, Arizonans have told me the same thing: we want our teachers to be better paid.

We all know that Prop 301 funding expires in a short few years. As a state, we must address this potential education funding cliff, which would exacerbate our current education funding woes.

I have proposed a plan to renew Prop 301 on a permanent basis and provide an immediate 11% increase in teacher salaries along with much needed funding for school capital expenditures.

There are other plans out there as well. I am willing to listen and work with anyone, and with all of you and the Governor, to make sure we don’t fall off that fiscal cliff and to insure a stable funding for our education system.

My advice is, the plan agreed upon, needs to focus on teacher salaries and be acceptable to the voters. It also needs to be permanent: no more fiscal cliffs.

There is too much at stake to fail. I also worry about waiting to the last minute to act, giving ourselves no time to address the fiscal cliff, if a solution is not passed.

I was pleased to stand with the Governor, the Senate President and the Speaker of House, along with representatives of School Districts across our state, in favor of the Governor’s proposal increasing funding for additional assistance.

It is a path forward, with currently available resources, to ending the recession-era cuts to school facility funding. The flexibility it provides to districts and schools to use funds towards teacher salaries, as well as bricks and mortar, is most welcome.

I was encouraged to see some plaintiffs in the school facility lawsuit, dropping from the suit, in response to this proposal.

I have always preferred paying teachers, rather than lawyers. Another way we will try to address the teacher shortage is by partnering with Troops to Teachers.

This program assists transitioning military service members and veterans in beginning new careers as K-12 school teachers. This is a win-win: it honors our service members with a profession; while our students benefit from the example of teachers that have shown a special devotion to our nation.

While I appreciate the efforts and intent to minimize our teacher shortage, we must not lower the standards of the profession. Our children deserve teachers that are not only fully prepared to manage a classroom, but are also experts in their respective content areas.

Earlier I mentioned that we have replaced Common Core with new Arizona Standards for English and Math. This spring I plan to propose new Science, History and Social Science Standards to the State Board of Education for approval.

It is my intent, that the new Social Science Standards ensure that our students reach adulthood understanding the principles of America’s Founders. We must insure that they will be ready to be good citizens and pass along the benefits of liberty and a Constitutional Republic to future generations.

Maintaining the new standards does require on-going resources. The sources of funding for standards development has gone away and without legislative action we may find ourselves once again without the ability to direct our own future and that of our children. I was extremely happy to see funding for standards development in the Governor’s proposed budget.

Another need is for steady maintenance of our existing IT system. I was pleased to see this addressed in the Governor’s proposed budget and hope the legislature agrees.

If you have listened to my statements to the media and stakeholders over the past year, I spoken very sympathetically about the unenviable position the legislature finds itself in. We all realize how little funding exists for new projects once annual allocations are dispersed.

While I would not want to be in your shoes, I would not be doing my duty as Superintendent if I didn’t raise the issue of our greatest need, which is replacing APOR/CHAR, the IT system used to calculate payments for the $6.5 billion of student funding statewide.

While our new student information system AzEDS is up and running – it is paired with an antiquated school finance system backed by outdated hardware and software that is no longer under warranty or being supported.

If the Windows 2000 technology operating APOR/CHAR were to break down, it would cost us $10 million for Microsoft to even take a look at it.

If it would take Microsoft $10 million just to look at it, we desperately need to spend the roughly $9 million for a new system to pay schools and protect student data from getting into the wrong person’s hands.

Since the system is so archaic, we were ranked in the Bottom 5 of all state agencies by ADOA in regards to IT security.

The report unfortunately didn’t explain that 90 percent of those findings were the result of our systems still operating on Atari and Napster-era technology.

If we really care about protecting the student data of 1.1 million children we can no longer allow this to occur. Our situation today, with AzEDS matched to a legacy school finance system, is like having Amazon’s website and warehouse, but a delivery system that uses a horse and buggy.

While I love, and appreciate, the history and romance of the Pony Express as much as anyone; it is not a twenty-first century delivery system. So I’m hoping to work with you over the next session to help provide our schools with the finance system they deserve.

I empathize with you and the position of having to fund so many vital programs. And while bringing up the need for a new IT system is probably as old as APOR/CHAR itself, I’m sure you can empathize with the situation the state will find itself in if it isn’t replaced in the near future.

I would also like to share my Read 20 Arizona initiative to encourage early literacy. It emphasizes the importance of an adult reading to a child for 20 minutes a day or having a child read to them for 20 minutes.

Reading aloud can be a powerful tool, and early childhood increases in vocabulary are a predictor of future school success. The Read 20 Arizona message is simple: read early, read often and read together.

I was fortunate enough to participate in a Dr. Suess themed literacy event at Christown Mall. A word of advice, if you can choose which Dr. Suess book to read aloud, don’t pick The Fox in Sox. It’s a tongue twister!

These are just some of the accomplishments and initiatives we are working towards now. My 2018 AZ Kid’s Can’t Wait plan lists and explains many others.

The parents, children and people of Arizona deserve our attention to all these areas of need. I look forward to working with all of you, the Governor and our teachers and educators on making Arizona’s education system better every day.

Thank you for your time, your commitment to the future of our children, and the leadership I know you will show during this legislative session.

God bless you all, and God bless Arizona!